Many of us remember laughing at Al Franken’s Stuart Smalley character on Saturday Night Live; for those who don’t remember the skit, the character is focused on repeating positive affirmations (and it’s still worth a watch).
I’m currently reading Appreciative Leadership, which I’ve am convinced may be the best leadership book I’ve read ever. The authors provide a framework for using appreciative inquiry as an approach to leadership. The framework uses five “Is” for appreciative leadership: inquiry, illumination, inclusion, inspiration, and integrity. As I read the chapter on Illumination, I’ll admit I giggled thinking about a Stuart Smalley skit for a moment, then realized the actual value of positive self talk for generating what the authors call “positive power.”
If you think about when you’re at your absolute best, what thoughts are you having about yourself? Chances are that this is not when the word “loser” comes through your mind repeatedly, or when you’re wrestling with a case of impostor syndrome. Now, if you extend this to your team, what thoughts do you have when your team is performing at a crazy-amazing level? Again, I doubt that you’re thinking about how tired you are of Bob and Betty fighting, or what a poor lead nurse Billie Jo is.
Admit it- when you recall situations in which there was great success, you tend to go positive with the things you think about. It immediately tells you what your and your team’s strengths are, and it gives you confidence to perform at a high level.
Time for a confessional: As I thought about using strengths and success oriented self-talk, I had a moment of self-illumination. I realized that during the times when I have not been a good leader, when I’ve been petty and difficult, it has uniformly come from a place of insecurity. And what’s put me there? That little voice telling me that I’m not enough, that I don’t belong there, that I really can’t do this.
Additional confession, or wisdom grown from my own lack of it: If I’ve learned any lessons in the last decade, one of the biggest ones is that people “feel” that insecurity and that sort of inner monologue. They know you’ve got doubts, and if you’re supposed to be leading them they’ll start to doubt themselves and the team too. It becomes a vicious cycle.
That leader stands in stark contrast to the “I’ve got this, and we’ve got this” leader who instills confidence in the team, makes them more capable, and helps them to achieve at a higher level.
Which leader do you want to be? And what are you telling yourself about your ability to be that leader?